The five communities that have been hit hardest by phone scammers in Nassau County are all in the 3rd Police Precinct, said Officer Jesse Cooper at a community meeting Thursday.
Westbury, New Hyde Park, Mineola, Great Neck and Manhasset have proved the most vulnerable to parties lying about their identities over the phone to obtain cash or gift cards, Cooper said.
Scammers use a variety of strategies and scenarios, such as pretending to be a relative or bank, he said, but the scams often share suspicious qualities in common.
People calling often ask for payment in the form of gift cards or large sums of money for false emergency situations, he said.
The median age for victims in the county was 67, he said.
Last year, the Nassau County Police Department had more than 80 reported phone scam incidents, and scammers obtained over $536,000, Cooper said.
“It turns my stomach when I read the morning report every day and I see another person who gave away $4,000 and that another person gave away $10,000,” Cooper said. “It doesn’t have to happen. This is something that can really, really be avoided.
Cooper provided one example in which a scammer called saying that the victim’s son was in trouble and $6,000 would save him.
The catch? The currency had to be in Home Depot gift cards. The victim read the cards’ serial numbers to the scammer over the phone, Cooper said.
The police department has placed flyers in stores that sell gift cards such as CVS to warn people of phone scam activity, he said.
The topic of the 6th Precinct, which the 3rd Precinct absorbed in 2012, did not come up at the meeting.
Nassau County Executive Laura Curran did not include funds to reintroduce the precinct in next year’s county budget, but both of the county Legislature’s caucuses have prepared amendments that do.
That bipartisan support makes it likely that the amendments will pass, said Presiding Officer and Legislator Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park) in an interview.
“We do what we’re told,” said 3rd Precinct Inspector Gregory Abruzzo after the meeting. “We’re good followers. We do what the county executive and the police commissioner want us to do.”
In addition to phone scams, officers presented on how to prevent break-ins and ways that developing technology is affecting young people’s safety.
Officer Michael Costanzo said that making your home seem inhabited at all times can deter burglars. He suggested leaving the television on and not telling people that you’ll be going out of town.
Officer Thomas Brock spoke about issues affecting youth. Drugs are a big concern, especially since the stigma surrounding them has changed and people are using new products to smoke them, he said.
“Stores like Hot Topic, dispensaries, they sell clothing apparel to hide these drug,” Brock said. “It’s not the old days with Bob Marley, ganjas, stuff like that.”
Cyberbullying is also a police concern, he said.
“These kids are bullied up to 16 hours a day,” Brock said. “They get bullied in school and they get home and get bullied on the internet.
The police department has been sending officers to schools to all level of schools to teach students about safety issues, the officers said. Brock said he is considering starting anti-bullying clubs in schools.
A scattered crowd of residents from throughout the precinct attended the meeting at Shelter Rock Elementary School. Audience questions covered a variety of issues, from village security cameras to opioids.